Over the last 50 years, the Israeli settlement enterprise has created turmoil between Israelis and Palestinians. Primarily built in the West Bank, these new homes and townships for Jewish inhabitants have received a polarizing reaction from around the world, due to their construction on occupied territory. Nevertheless, these projects continued unabated, with the help of the Israeli government. Filmmaker Shimon Dotan visits many of these controversial areas to speak with their citizens, including some religious extremists. Meanwhile, the director chronicles the contentious conflicts that have occurred as a result of these expansionist aims.
This raw, riveting documentary may not be timelier. In December, a UN Security Council resolution passed, stating that Israel’s settlement activity had “no legal validity.” Meanwhile, President Trump’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has pro-settler views. So, a film critically examining these provocative projects is essential for anyone interested in political science and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Dotan spends a large chunk of the documentary alongside long-time inhabitants of these settlements, and often gets some unsparing comments. A few of the interviewed subjects are concerned about the intensity of violence between the settlers and their Palestinian neighbours. Others give shocking statements, sometimes influenced by religious dogma, to justify the expansion. Near the end of the film, a young adult says he believes that it is the Jewish prophecy for settlement to expand even beyond the borders of the country, into Jordan and Iraq. Another Israeli admits to the camera that he is a racist, explaining, “Arabs do not belong in our country.”
As an examination of the legality and livelihood within these regions, The Settlers is fascinating. As a keyhole into history, the documentary is rather uneven. Dotan picks a few key events within Israeli history – notably, situations occurring under the reign of prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin – to provide context. Yet, there is almost nothing in regard to the most recent decade of Israeli-Palestinian violence. President Obama is mentioned once, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is conspicuously absent.
Meanwhile, too many of the voices we hear are Israeli. The struggles of West Bank Palestinians, affected and afflicted by the rise of settler populations, deserved more than a few minutes of screen time. A documentary aching to capture the political zeitgeist feels unfinished without these pertinent views on the subject.